Hunting and Gathering
Brooke Berman's delightful play explores urban rootlessness and the search for connections, no matter how precarious.
Ruth (Keira Naughton) is a bright, 30-something woman, who keeps the majority of her stuff in storage. She moves the little that she needs with the help of her best friend Astor (Michael Chernus), who also happens to be the half-brother of her former lover, Jesse (Jeremy Shamos). When they were dating, Jesse was married. Recently divorced, he has moved into a new place of his own and seems just as adrift -- if not more so -- than Ruth.
Jesse has taken up with a perky undergraduate named Bess (Mamie Gummer), who is auditing the literature class he teaches at Columbia University. A chance encounter between Ruth and Bess -- involving the video game "Big Buck Hunter" -- inspires Ruth to take charge of her life, but it's not so clear that a predatory instinct is what's needed to survive in the urban landscape in which all four characters try to make sense of their lives.
Berman sprinkles her play with an assortment of popular culture references and bon mots. Describing Park Slope, Ruth declares, "it's basically a white liberal ghetto for Wesleyan grads with Asian babies." Labeling IKEA as "the nexus of evil," Astor further states: "They're not selling furniture. They're selling Identity."
Naughton brings a wounded sensitivity mixed with a hopeful optimism to her role, as Ruth is ground down, lifted up, and forced to become stronger if not always wiser. The talented actress captures this journey perfectly, and her final scenes reflect the character's growth in a poignant manner. Chernus has a wonderful energy and an endearing personality as Astor. He and Naughton share a vibrant stage chemistry, which makes their characters' friendship seem very real, and then also extremely awkward once something occurs that jeopardizes their relationship.
Shamos radiates a soulful melancholy that is at its most heartbreaking during a scene that he plays with Naughton's Ruth. It's clear that there's so much more that he wants to say, but can't articulate; moreover, even if he had the words, it's doubtful he'd speak them. Bess is the most shallowly written character in the script, and while Gummer isn't able to bring much depth to the part, she does possess a strong presence and brings out the humor within the play.